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Redline Darter Etheostoma rufilineatum is endemic to the southeast USA.

The Art of Microfishing

Redline Darter Etheostoma rufilineatum is endemic to the southeast USA.Micro fishing has been described as a sub-species of fishing and I think that term suits it best. Anglers who micro fish agree that specialized equipment works best for these specialized fish and new companies have formed making hooks, lines, weights, and accessories. Micro fishing is slowly but surely becoming big business.

So, what’s it all about?

Micro fishing is fishing, but smaller. Everything is smaller; the line, the weights, and especially the hooks. It is a term used to describe the fish also, the fish the angler targets are normally under six inches or so.

Micro fishing has gained a steady following but has seen a surge in the past few years among lifelisters, who can add significant numbers to their list by micro fishing.

Lifelisting is the fishing equivalent of bird watching, and anglers keep strict lists of their catches. Most of the fish in the world are indeed small, and micro fishing is an essential tool in the lifelisters toolbox.

Micro fishing and lifelisting are also interesting for kids, and getting them started earlier may increase their learning of science and biology. It is a lot of fun watching a child catch a fish on a micro rig.

Lots of people get into micro fishing because they like small, yet colorful, fish. Some species of shiners and darters are very attractive, such as the Rainbow Shiner, Redline Darter, and Tangerine Darter. All three of these species can be caught micro fishing and were some of the first species I personally targeted.

There are approximately 1200 species of freshwater fish native to North America, with several introduced exotics as well. Most of these 1200 species are small, for example, the fish commonly referred to as “Shiners” and the Perch Family which includes 200 species of Darter.

Anglers who wish to increase their lifelist, in essence, must include micro fishing into their toolbox. I started micro fishing in the Fall of 2017. I had already fished my entire life from childhood on, and with the help of some photos was able to start with sixty-some species.

The first micro fish I was able to catch were Eastern Mosquitofish in a backyard creek. I really enjoyed it from the start and I was able to rapidly expand my lifelist. Micro fishing also gave me a chance to explore new ecosystems that I hadn’t explored before for more mainstream species. It also helped me learn more, and with the help of my Peterson Guide to Freshwater Fishes, I was able to find most of the species I was interested in and catch them locally.

Then I started to branch out more as the species became harder and harder to find. I found Florida was a great place to find a good number of native and exotic fish species. In all of three years, I was able to catch 96 lifer fish species in Florida.

Microfishing a stream in North Carolina.I found micro fishing gear extremely complicated when I first began. I eventually found out that micro fishing can be relatively cheap and finding gear could be very simple. To this day I still use a $15 dollar collapsible Crappie pole for micro fishing. It is the best length in my opinion to handle most of the micros in North America, 10 feet.

I also bought a heavy-duty 12-foot rod for catching hard to reach species, but I rarely use that. B and M is the manufacturer, and they are sold on Amazon.com.

For hooks, I went to Tenkarabum.com and found a good variety. A micro fisherman must consider hooks the most important part of the arsenal, this is very true. I commonly use Owner brand “Smallest” hooks. They are wonderful hooks with a very small barb and come attached with a foot of pre snelled red line. Red is a very hard color for fish to see.

Owner brand New Moon hooks work as well, but I lose more fish when I use these. Also, it is a good idea to purchase size 28 and size 26 hooks, commonly sold as “trout fly” hooks.

Don’t forget the little green weights sold by Chris Stewart at Tenkarabum.com, they are essential. I normally don’t use a float, but some anglers do and that is fine. I just don’t see the need for them, and it’s another thing that can cause tangles.

Sight fishing is the preferred method for micro fishing, so you will actually see the fish taking the bait about 80-90 percent of the time. My favorite bait is red worms, and this is for a number of reasons. For one thing, red worms are hardier and handle warmer temperatures, secondly, they tend to stay on the hook longer and are easier to put on the hook, and finally, they seem to be more visible and appealing to the fish. Nightcrawlers will work in a pinch, however.

I have a separate Darter fishing rod which is a little shorter, at 3 feet long. This allows me to get close enough to sight fish Darters in streams with ease. For snorkelfising, which is a whole new chapter, I use an 11-inch pole, which allows me to catch fish underwater. For a basic novice micro fisherman, with this information, can purchase the equipment they need to start micro fishing for under $50 dollars.

There are a few techniques for micro fishing but the best in my opinion is to sight fish. This enables the angler to see his or her bait and watch the fish bite and can set the hook at the correct time. Anglers can also keep their baits away from fish they aren’t wanting to target or catch.

If there is a current, try a natural drift from the riffle into the hole, this will produce more bites than dropping a bait directly into a hole. Also, some fish species such as Topminnows will be on the surface, so using little to no weight for these species is recommended.

If sight fishing is not possible due to water conditions, blind fishing is feasible. For some species such as Madtoms this type of fishing can be especially good. Fishing under structure also works for Madtoms and some Darter species such as fishing under logs or rocks.

I started micro fishing in a backyard creek and found it immediately enjoyable. Eastern Mosquitofish were my first targets and I found them very eager to bite. At the time I was using Berkley Gulp bait which is an artificial bait made to look and smell like maggots. I had issues early on hooking smaller Mosquitofish, but after a while, I started hooking them with ease. I made my way downstream on the same creek to a bend with a deeper hole and to my surprise caught Rosyside Dace and Greenfin Shiners. It was a thrill catching and photographing these fish, and making a lifelist was also something I found rewarding.

I quickly added micro fish after micro fish to my lifelist and ran out of local fish species to catch. I could see that traveling would be necessary to increase my numbers, and I began planning trips outside of North Carolina.

Red worms quickly became my favorite bait, as they last longer in the heat, are easier to put on the hook, and wiggle more to be more visible to fish. Having a backup bait is always a good idea, however, and I still carry a bottle of Gulp bait with me.

Good spots to try micro fishing are deep pools in creeks, usually right after waterfalls or riffles. These holes will hold fish most of the year, but in the winter, fish in creeks will normally stay in one or two places in a big stretch of creek. Ditches are also great places to find fish, especially in the deep south where there are very unique species for the micro angler to catch.

Rivers are also good places, but finding shallow habitat that can hold micro fish may be more difficult. Ponds are less likely to hold fish that micro fisherman may be interested in, but some stock their ponds with forage fish, so that is an option as well. Basically, anywhere there is water that holds fish is the realm of the micro fisherman.

I found out about micro fishing from several articles online and through a few friends who had told me about it. What interested me most in micro fishing was tracking down and catching new species. I found that to be very enjoyable.

Micro fishing has added hundreds of species to my lifelist and has helped me with catching bigger species as well. Getting other anglers involved in micro fishing has also been quite enjoyable. Seeing the look on a kid’s face as he or she catches their first Mosquitofish is very rewarding as well.

by Tim Aldridge
Photos by Tim Aldridge

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